Unexpected changes and advances in technology have certainly done one thing for marketers: propel omnichannel strategies to the fore. For a growing number of marketers, omnichannel is the next phase in the evolution of marketing. But as marketers make way for omnichannel marketing—which some experts define as connecting with customers ubiquitously across channels—what happens to multichannel marketing?
Has technology pushed marketers to outgrow multichannel marketing? “Absolutely not,” says Roger Barnette, president of digital marketing company IgnitionOne. “[Multichannel marketing] might be passé at shows or on panels, but not on the front lines. Multichannel and omnichannel aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Barnette explains that omnichannel is driven by the customer and how they interact with brands across offline and online channels. Multichannel is more marketer driven; more concerned with how campaigns are constructed across channels behind the scenes. “They can be happening at the same time; it’s not one or the other,” he says.
Few marketers contest the similarities between multichannel, omnichannel, and even cross-channel marketing, but there are elements of confusion due in part to the various ways that marketers define each. Many marketers define multichannel as more of an internal marketing strategy, while defining omnichannel as focusing on the customer’s perception of a brand’s unified messaging—similar to Barnette’s views.
“[With] multichannel…multiple channels exist and most marketers chose to deploy in those channels; while omnichannel is a more consumer-centric approach,” explains Jeffrey Wilks, SVP of marketing at eBay Enterprise. “Cross-channel is the relationship between the various channels …and [how marketers use] one channel to empower another,” adds Ben Pressley, head of worldwide sales at Magento, an eBay-owned e-commerce provider.
Other marketers see this debate over definition as a non-issue. “It’s all just jargon,” says Ken Burke, CEO and founder of e-commerce platform MarketLive. “Omni, multi, cross; they’re all completely the same thing. There should be no controversy here.”
Variances abound, but some say that, like omnichannel, multichannel marketing is just emerging from its nascent stages.
“Generally speaking, the majority of companies have not mastered multichannel marketing. Not because they don’t want to improve, but because technology is still an obstacle,” says Madelyn Gengelbach, VP of strategic marketing at contact center provider inContact. These technological challenges transcend hardware. Take the marketing automation sector, for example. Successful providers tend to make their platforms fully compatible with a number CRM tools to help enable more personalized and relevant marketing across channels. But the constant promotion of compatibility highlights just how fragmented the marketing technology space can be. “How can you promise true omnichannel marketing when you have different platforms that don’t speak to each other handling different channels?” Gengelbach asks.
Though technology silos have in some ways slowed down the momentum for marketers using multichannel marketing strategies, there has been progress. The advent and wide adoption of smartphones have pushed mobile to the forefront of marketers’ attention. “We’re carrying around the ultimate multichannel device in our smartphones. That’s really accelerating the push of multichannel,” Gengelbach says.
So, is multichannel marketing outdated? Is omnichannel the wave of the future? The answers depend on who you’re speaking with—and may continue to for some time. But many argue that there are more pressing questions for marketers to consider. “We have all of these people trying to figure out what multichannel or omnichannel means, and no one’s wondering if customers are even using these devices,” MarketLive’s Burke explains. “If you look at marketing from a tech perspective then you’re tackling a tech problem. [Instead], put the customer at the center. The world is changing. Technology is evolving, yet the customer experience is horrible. All we [as marketers] should care about is growing our business and fixing this problem.”